“10 Trashy Ideas About the Environment” by Guerrilla Girls
Close Looks: "10 Trashy Ideas About the Environment" by the Guerrilla Girls
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The green and white text-based image is printed on a 9×12-inch white plastic bag, so just slightly larger than a standard, letter-sized piece of paper. The plastic bag is pristine – it has clearly never been used to contain or transport anything. There are no fingerprints, smudges, or distortions of any kind in the surface. In fact, you need to look closely to find the telltale signs that it is in fact a bag and not just a sheet of plastic. It looks like the kind of plastic bag you might get buying postcards in a gift store. Across the upper edge of the plastic, there is an area about three inches wide that looks slightly thicker than the rest of the area below it. In the center of this thicker area of the plastic, there is a hole, maybe an inch in diameter, that looks like it was made to be a handle. If this pristine bag were ever used, someone’s finger could slip through that hole and the thicker band of plastic would prevent the bag from tearing due to the strain. Around all four flat, unrumpled edges there is a very narrow edge, presumably a seam that seals the side of the plastic together and allows it to function as a bag. Seen from slightly to one side, a few ripples are visible in the surface, possibly the effect of an adhesive joining the plastic to the backing on which it is mounted, but they are hard to detect because the dark green background of the image camouflages them.
Just beneath the thicker area across the top of the white plastic bag there is the top of a dark green rectangular field that occupies almost all of the lower part of the bag. There is a border of about half an inch along each side and a slightly wider, perhaps inch-wide, border at the bottom. The green rectangle has been printed just a little bit off register, so that the side border is a little bit narrower at the upper left than the lower left, and at the lower right than the upper right.
Across the top of the green rectangular field, in all capital white letters, is a heading – the work’s title: 10 TRASHY IDEAS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT: (colon)
Below the title there are ten statements, each appearing in smaller upper- and lower-case green letters (the same color as the background) on a white background made to resemble ten sheets of torn white paper. The illusion of torn pieces of paper makes an interesting contrast with the smooth surface of the plastic bag. Each of the areas that look like torn paper has a completely or partially irregular perimeter. In addition to the green letters, there are tiny green dots, denser in some areas and sparser in others, creating the impression that the surface – which we know to be flat – is crumpled paper, with shadows in the parts that have been wadded up and then partially smoothed out.
The ten statements are organized so that they fill the entire green rectangular field. This description of the ten statements starts at the top left of the rectangle and moves downward from there.
The top two statements appear side by side, each on a fragment of paper with a straight edge at the top. At the upper left:
To hell with natural cycles. Mud slides, brush fires and earthquakes shouldn’t keep me from building my dream house wherever I want to.
At the upper right:
Dumping garbage in rivers and oceans is disgusting, but, hey, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Below those two statements appear two more, almost but not quite on the same horizontal level. At left:
What can I do if the wind happens to blow pollution from my factory to another state or country?
It’s better to save almost extinct industries than almost extinct animal species.
Just below those two sets of statements, there is a grouping of four more statements, appearing in a more random, less ordered distribution than the statements above them. In fact on this group of four statements the text is more evidently printed on diagonals and in different orientations from one another. The leftmost of these four says:
Animals that attack humans or human property have no place in our national parks or ranch lands. Let’s put them in zoos or stuff them.
The statement next to it, on the image’s vertical center, says:
My fireplace is so cozy. It makes me feel good. My psychic health is more important than air quality.
To the right of this statement, one above the other, are two more statements. The upper one reads:
Lawns, manicured parks and golf courses are so beautiful that they’re worth all the excess water and pesticides it takes to maintain them.
Just beneath it:
I know it’s wasteful to use disposable diapers but I just don’t give a shit.
There are two more statements near the bottom of the green rectangular field. At the left:
I love the privacy and convenience of my car and won’t give it up. Besides, how could I shave or put on makeup while riding mass transit?
At the lower right:
I like to use plastic, especially for making art about the environment. After all, art is eternal, and so is plastic.
Along the very bottom edge of the printed area, in three different typefaces and sizes, is more text. At left, in capital letters of uniform height in the second largest of the typefaces on this line:
A PUBLIC SERVICE MESSAGE FROM
Then the artists’ name in the largest of the typefaces on this line, all caps with larger initials:
Finally, at right, in the smallest type, with letters almost all in caps that almost touch the tenth statement about art and plastic being eternal, and spaced more widely than the other text is an address:
532 LaGUARDIA PLACE, #237. NY, NY 10012
We did this twenty-seven years ago, and it’s tragic that so little has changed.
– Frida Kahlo, for the Guerrilla Girls
What do you see? This work is a white plastic bag printed bright green by commercial offset lithography. The background is green. The title at the top of the composition is printed in white bold letters. The title states 10 Trashy Ideas About the Environment. The body of the image printed in white is comprised of a loose arrangement of paper scraps with quotes.
Each scrap of paper has printed quotes without attributions. An example is: “To hell with natural cycles. Mud slides, brush fires and earthquakes shouldn’t keep me from building my dream house wherever I want.” And “Animals that attack humans or human property have no place in our national parks or ranch lands. Let’s put them in zoos or stuff them.”
At the bottom of the page is written: “A Public Service Message from GUERRILLA GIRLS. 532 LaGuardia Place, #237, NY, NY 10012.”
What do you think? These activist artists deploy heavy-handed sarcasm to convey a conscience-raising message about how some individuals justify a “me-first” attitude toward the environment. The title of this piece not so subtly suggests the intended message. This is a text-based piece. Accessible commercial materials and printing do their part to disarm the viewer. Formal beauty is not the objective.
The message shines a harsh light on a general lack of understanding or denial of global issues and how the attitudes and actions of individuals, communities and nations can have wide-reaching and profound consequences.
I think this work speaks to deeper human psychology. The self versus others.
– Minoo Emami is an artist and an alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art program.
Guerrilla Girls, American, active since 1985, 10 Trashy Ideas About the Environment, from Portfolio Compleat, 1994, offset lithograph, 12 x 9 in. (30.5 x 22.9 cm). Ackland Fund, 2014.16.50. © 1994 Guerrilla Girls.
- What do you see?
- Pay attention to not only the words, but how they appear on the bag. Describe the forms and colors.
- After reading each statement in the artwork, which one(s) had the greatest impact on you? Why? Which statement, if any, do you think addresses concerns your local community has about the environment?
- This lithograph was printed on a plastic bag. Why do you think the Guerrilla Girls chose this material? How does the material affect your perception of this work?
- Learn more about 10 Trashy Ideas About the Environment in the Ackland’s About the Art guide.
- Visit the Guerrilla Girls’ website to learn more about the feminist activist artists and their work.
- Watch an artist interview from Tate. Find more videos to watch on the Guerrilla Girls’ YouTube channel.
- 10 Trashy Ideas About the Environment and many other posters by the Guerrilla Girls are printed using an offset lithography printing process. Watch a demonstration of the offset lithography process from the Museums of San Francisco.
- In the mid 1990s, around the time the Guerrilla Girls created this print, four of every five grocery bags used in the United States were made of plastic. View a short history of the plastic bag.
- Learn more about UNC-Chapel Hill’s initiative to advance sustainability activities on campus.
- Follow the Guerrilla Girls on Twitter and Instagram.
- Join us Thursday, September 2, 2021 at 12:30 p.m. at the Ackland for a Close Looks Conversational Tour about 10 Trashy Ideas About the Environment. Register on the Ackland’s online calendar.